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Our bikes - BMW K1100 LT


(MT #340, updated July 2020)


Rough Games

by Guy 'Guido' Allen; workshop pics by Ben Galli Photography & James at BM Motorcycles

Our allegedly cheap tourer bites us on the wallet

What’s that saying? If you play rough games, you have to expect the occasional black eye. The somewhat sunny summary of my recently-acquired el cheapo tourer a little while ago may have been a little hasty, though I did mention it needed work.

To recap: A while back I wrote a Dive Bombers feature for Motorcycle Trader mag (see it here), which was about buying bikes that once had sky-high prices that had now crashed in value. The LT is a good example, starting at $20,300 plus ORC in 1992 and purchased recently in Queensland for a paltry $2600. Cheap transport, that was once BMW’s el-primo tourer with a full deck of hard luggage and a huge adjustable windscreen.

Only problem was that the clutch tended to slip if you throttled on hard in top gear. That’s a common enough problem with K-series. Most often it’s just the dry clutch wearing out, or copping oil from a leaking engine rear main seal. In either case it means removing the rear swingarm and gearbox to get at it – a big job. BM Motorcycles in Ringwood quoted around $1200-1300 to do it, but warned that assumed everything else was okay, but there were sometimes gearbox issues as well. An all too prescient warning, as it turned out.


Yes, I did contemplate tackling it at home, studying one or two videos on the topic. In theory it’s possible, but in my case time is limited and I’m not a mechanic. So any task that takes a professional an hour could easily take four times that and the result would not be as reliable. Sure, I’ve successfully tackled some big rebuild tasks in the past, with reasonable success, but it’s not what I’m actually good at. Meanwhile, other people pay me good money to do my actual job…

Okay, with the decision made, I waited for the inevitable phone call. Chris, ringmaster at the store, fortunately did not start the conversation by suggesting I get a priest (or exorcism, or last rites) though I was half-expecting the worst. Things were looking up, sort of. But there was bad news.

These transmissions have a few known issues. First is the input shaft seal is prone to failure, and the clutch pushrod ends up channeling the oil to the clutch due to its own failed seal. Very handy.


The last is the retaining bolt for the shifting shaft can work loose. It only requires a little Loctite to fix it, but it’s located at the rear of the ’box and can’t be reached without disassembly. Apparently that last item was eventually addressed at the factory on later versions of this model, from 1994. Last time we visited this motorcycle, I complained about a sloppy gearchange and this was the cause.

As you can imagine, the gearbox build added significantly to the labour required, though the components themselves were generally reasonably priced. For example a rear main cost $60 while the replacement clutch plate was $220.

That wasn’t the end to the surprises. At some stage in its career, this bike had been hit from behind – hard! Both swingarm pivot pins were bent and the bearings needed replacement, too. The latter were just shy of $250. Ouch.


Of course, just before I rode it in for this work, it had developed a mystery electrical ailment. The starter motor sometimes wouldn’t respond and the headlight would cut out whenever that happened. As these things do, it got progressively worse, to the point where the headlamp could no longer be relied on. What had me baffled was the clear relationship with the ailments on two apparently unrelated components. What the hell?

Chris explained the mystery. The LT, like a lot of modern bikes with hard-wired headlamps, has a load-shedding relay. That’s designed to switch off the lamp when you hit the starter button, to give all the available juice to the main task. Only problem is, on the BMW that relay is earthed through the starter motor itself. So if the motor brushes begin to wear (which mine had) you also lose the headlamp. Who came up with that plan?

As you may know, you can often coax a dodgy starter to fire up, with a bit of a tap on the casing, or putting the bike in gear and rocking it back to move the starter rotor to a new position where it makes contact. Either will often get the show on the road, but having the headlight conk out as well is just plain mean.


Anyway, the starter needed new brushes, which was done. It’s a relatively simple job and the components (two sets of brushes plus a shim) added up to a little under $80.

But wait, there’s more! One of the mysteries of this machine was it seemed to sit a little low and could be a bugger to get up on the centrestand. The answer? It was wearing a K100 rear shock instead of the proper and longer K1100 unit. Chris & Co were kind enough to do a swap at minimal cost.

Any former dramas were largely forgotten when I used it for its intended role, which was as transport during winter. Melbourne’s traffic seems to be largely gridlock during the week, and I get to see a lot of it. The K (despite its size) is good at hacking through the traffic, keeping muggins warm while cutting my commuting times (compared to a car) to around half.


With everything working normally, the 16-valve four has impressive midrange and certainly leaps at the horizon when you want it to. As for the grief to get this far – put it down to experience. It was bought sight unseen, which was always a risk. I’ve done alright in the past, and the odd let-down doesn’t come as a complete shock.

So, finally, some $2k later we have the show on the road – that’s a lot of work included. Really, at mid fours all-up, this was no longer a bargain. That’s about what you’d pay for a good one with no issues. Still, at least I know the weak points of clutch and assorted transmission seals have now been sorted by the best people in the business and the damn thing will now probably outlive me!



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